In 1969, the only crematory in Oklahoma was located at a cemetery in Tulsa. Today, almost 40 years later, there are 25 crematories in the state. Cremation is becoming a more frequent choice for several reasons, say spokesmen for the state Funeral Board, several funeral homes and Dignity Memorial, a company that offers cremation services to a network of funeral homes in Oklahoma and elsewhere. Cremation is “definitely increasing nationwide, and also here in Oklahoma,” said Lloyd Brown, director of the state Funeral Board, which licenses and regulates funeral homes, crematories, funeral directors and embalmers. Brown estimated that cremation is being chosen 20 percent of the time statewide, but the figure is closer to 30 percent in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas. Cremation is the choice of more than half of people on the East and West coasts, said Kevin Dennis, general manager of Vondel L. Smith & Son Mortuary, which operates its own crematory in Oklahoma City. When people move to Oklahoma, some of them bring a preference for cremation with them, and cost is one reason, Brown said. A traditional funeral averages $6,500, with the cost of burial being a big part of that, Brown said. Direct cremation, a process in which the body is picked up and cremated without any type of viewing or services, can cost as little as $500, he said. With a cremation, there is no need to buy a conventional casket. Combustible caskets are available, as well as rented caskets with an insert that goes into the crematory with the body, Brown said. There’s a wide range of choices for disposing of the cremated remains, from scattering — which can be free — to buying an urn and having it placed in a niche at a cemetery, or even burying it in a cemetery plot that already holds the remains of another family member. Some cemeteries allow multiple urns to be buried in a single cemetery space, Brown said. Cremation “can be a cost-saving disposition, or it can be just as costly,” said Jeremy Sparks, general manager of Hahn-Cook, Street & Draper Funeral Home, which is part of the Dignity network. Sparks said some of the reasons people give for choosing cremation are the reduced cost, “not having to put a body in the earth” and that “it’s simpler.” Others cite cremation as their “overall preference.” The cost of a cremation with a memorial service may be half of the normal expense of a traditional funeral, Dennis said. Sparks expects to see the cremation rate to increase “substantially” in the next 10 years because of the aging Baby Boom generation. Another reason for the increase in cremation is the increasing number of Asians living in Oklahoma, whose preference is cremation, and a growing acceptance of cremation by Roman Catholics, said funeral director Joe Kernke, of Smith & Kernke Funeral Homes. In the 1960s, cremation was “not acceptable at all to the Catholic faith. The Vatican would not endorse cremation at all,” Kernke said. In the 1990s, however, it gained acceptance, he said. Catholic tradition is for the body to be blessed with holy water during the funeral, so cremation takes place afterwards, Kernke said. He noted that the Catholic church does not approve of scattering the cremated remains, seeing that as disrespectful to the person as “a temple of the holy spirit.” Among Asian cultures, including Koreans, Chinese and Vietnamese, families have asked to be present while a cremation occurs, Kernke said. His funeral home has arranged rows of chairs in an area adjacent to the crematory to accommodate them, he said. When a family plans to do a scattering, Kernke said he prefers to talk to the them about the nature of cremated remains, which are not all reduced to fine ash, as some people expect. Chris Schutz: 292-6105, firstname.lastname@example.org
Before a cremation
Oklahoma requires a permit from the state Medical Examiner’s office before a cremation can occur. The funeral director obtains the permit. The medical examiner “reviews the causes of death to see if they need to investigate it,” said Lloyd Brown, director of the Oklahoma Funeral Board. The review can take a day or two. If foul play is suspected, they will do an autopsy before cremation is allowed.
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